- The big picture
- CRT vs LCD
- Key features
- The specs explained
- Monitor shopping tips
- Donate or recycle your old monitor
Try before you buy. When it comes to choosing the monitor you will be staring at for the next few years, only your eyes can tell you if a monitor's image quality, resolution, and size are right for you. Don't buy displays over the Web or by mail order unless the seller has an unconditional return policy. Checking out models in a store can be helpful, but keep in mind that they are often hooked up to low-quality video signals and placed under different lighting from what you have in your office or home. If possible, try to find a vendor with a liberal return policy, so you can try the monitor in your own setting before committing to the purchase.
Check screen real estate. Make sure you have enough screen for what you need to do. Remember that the viewable area of a widescreen monitor is generally comparable to the viewable area of a regular format monitor that's two inches smaller. Similarly, the viewable size of a CRT is an inch or two smaller than the advertised tube size - so if you're switching from a CRT to an LCD, you may not need as big a monitor as you think. Also bear in mind that if you're switching from an LCD with a regular aspect ratio to a widescreen one, the widescreen will have less real estate at the same diagonal measurement. A 19in widescreen is comparable to a 17in regular format LCD. The current sweet spots for display size are the 19in regular format LCD and the 20-to-22in widescreen LCD, both of which provide plenty of desktop space for most users.
Gain more screen space by using two monitors. Consider using multiple smaller monitors instead of one big one. With the right video card, you can run both simultaneously off the same PC. A pair of 17in LCDs will let you do video or image editing in one window, and word processing or Web browsing in the other. This can be a great way to get more use out of old monitors. If the double footprint gives you pause, consider mounting two small LCDs on a stand. Look for monitors with good screen quality and the VESA industry standard Flat Panel Mounting Interface and an FPMI-compatible stand.
Decide whether you want speakers. The inclusion of speakers in a monitor can be a nice way to save space on your desktop. But despite recent advances, their sound will rarely satisfy the discerning ear. If you're picky about sound quality, save the money for a nice set of speakers with a subwoofer.